Downtown water walk helps ‘kick-start awareness’ about Lexington’s Town Branch plan

By Greg Kocher – gkocher1@herald-leader.com
 

People interested in the history and ecology of Lexington came downtown Sunday to learn more about Town Branch Commons, the proposed downtown park that would follow the path of the city’s historic water source.

The park would include much of Town Branch, the creek that runs beneath downtown Lexington. The park would be a network of pools, fountains and rain gardens stretching from the Isaac Murphy Memorial Garden at East Third Street and Midland Avenue to Cox Street near Rupp Arena.

Gena Wirth, the design principal for SCAPE/Landscape Architecture of New York, which won an international competition to design Town Branch Commons, said the event was designed to let people envision the park.

“If you don’t know it’s there, you can’t get excited about what it could be,” Wirth said. “Town Branch is this kind of hidden, unseen thing, and this event is helping kick-start awareness about Town Branch and the role we all play in helping preserve and maintain quality water systems.”

Claire Carpenter, a retired University of Kentucky employee who described herself as “somewhat over 60,” said she has been following “the possibilities of bringing Town Branch back to daylight for a while.”

“Plus, I’m a biker, so this seemed like a natural to come bike the route of the underground stream,” Carpenter said. “I think it would be wonderful to take a dirty old stream and culvert and turn it into a city asset.”

Town Branch starts near the Smucker plant on Winchester Road where Jif peanut butter is made, Lexington architect Van Meter Pettit said during a walking tour from Midland Avenue to a parking lot across Vine Street from the Transit Center. Lexington was founded on the banks of Town Branch, a tributary of the South Elkhorn.

The creek “was an open waterway along the railroad,” Pettit said. “It probably was not full at all times, but it surged especially in wet weather. It generally came out of springs.”

After flooding in the 1920s and ’30s, Town Branch was paved over and covered by streets. Pointing to blue manhole covers along Midland Avenue, Pettit said: “All these storm sewers go directly to Town Branch, but now it’s all culverted. What we call Town Branch is just a system of culverts where we are standing now. It’s not until you get to the back of Rupp Arena” that Town Branch returns to the daylight.

Projects in Seoul, South Korea, and Yonkers, N.Y., have brought stretches of urban waterways back into the public light, Wirth said.

Trent Garrison, who teaches geology at Eastern Kentucky University, attended Sunday’s event to learn more about the groundwater system and the future of Lexington.

Garrison, 38, of Lexington said he would be interested in biking on the Town Branch path.

“We bike quite a bit, and it would be great not only for us but friends of ours who are interested in the same thing,” he said.

Blue Grass Community Foundation has begun a campaign to raise $50 million to build and maintain Town Branch Commons. This month the Urban County Council approved spending $180,000 to hire the foundation to spearhead the private fundraising.

Lexington council approves agreement to launch Town Branch Commons donation drive

In addition to private fundraising, the city is seeking a $13 million federal grant that would be matched by $10 million from the city and nearly $1 million from LexTran.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/living/family/article42617607.html#storylink=cpy

 

Foundation might lead efforts to raise money for Town Branch Commons in downtown Lexington

By Beth Musgrave – bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

The city is poised to give $180,000 to the Blue Grass Community Foundation to lead efforts to raise millions of dollars for Town Branch Commons, a new linear downtown Lexington park that will connect the city’s core to its rural landscape.

As part of its general fund budget of more than $323 million, the city set aside $10 million in bond money for the 2.5-mile linear park, which is to have a network of pools, fountains, rain gardens and pocket parks stretching from Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden on East Third Street to Cox Street near Rupp Arena.

The park will include much of Town Branch, the creek that mostly runs beneath downtown Lexington.

 

The $180,000 is from the general fund and is in addition to the $10 million in bond money.

Some members of the Urban County Council questioned the $180,000 allocation at Tuesday’s council work session. It will come up for a final vote in coming weeks.

Councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti questioned why the city was spending money to get money. The $180,000 is just for this fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2016. It’s not clear how much the city will have to pay Blue Grass for private fundraising in future years, Mossotti said.

“I think that’s a lot of money,” Mossotti said. “It just doesn’t seem to be best business practice to go that way.”

City officials defended the cost, saying it was needed to raise money.

“We are basically contracting with the Blue Grass Foundation to cultivate fundraising efforts,” said Jamie Emmons, chief of staff for Mayor Jim Gray.

The goal is to raise $50 million in private donations.

Emmons said the foundation also will manage the money, and potential donors want to know that the money will be managed appropriately.

The total price tag for the park is $75 million, including a little more than $24 million for infrastructure. The first phase is to build the infrastructure. In addition to the $10 million in city money, the city is seeking to receive $13 million in federal transportation money. The city should know if it receives the money in September, Emmons said.

Councilman Richard Moloney questioned what the city will do if the federal government doesn’t approve the $13 million.

Emmons said if the city doesn’t get the federal money this year, it will apply again next year. Emmons said if it doesn’t receive the federal money in the next two years, officials are developing an alternative plan.

“We are not going to spend any of the $10 million, unless the council approves it,” Emmons said.

Private fundraising will pay for building the pocket parks along the 2.5-mile stretch. City officials have said they think that once the infrastructure is built, it will be easier to raise money from private sources.

Plans for Town Branch Commons were unveiled in 2013 but were put on hold while the city pursued a major overhaul of Rupp Arena and the attached convention center. When the city and the University of Kentucky could not come to an agreement on the extent of the renovations to Rupp Arena, Gray suspended the Rupp Arena overhaul plans.

With the Rupp project stalled, the city is turning its focus to Town Branch Commons.

About $8 million would be needed to operate the system for 10 years after it is completed. That also will be raised through private donors.

An additional $12 million will be needed for an operating endowment, which would generate $500,000 to $1 million a year for operating expenses beyond the first 10 years. It would be maintained by a nonprofit. Many of the country’s newest parks are maintained by private nonprofits.

The design from Scape/Landscape Architecture of New York calls for a large Central Park-like park on the Cox Street lot west of Rupp Arena, a linear park in the Vine Street parking lot behind city hall, and other improvements to existing parks along the trail, including Triangle and Thoroughbred parks.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/news/local/counties/fayette-county/article42609648.html#storylink=cpy

 

Blaze trail to downtown greenway

Herald-Leader Editorial

The Urban County Council Tuesday heard a well-thought-out and ambitious plan for a public-private partnership to develop and maintain the Town Branch Commons through downtown Lexington, linking the Legacy and Town Branch Trails in a 22-mile trail system.

With this plan, Lexington has the opportunity to create a transformative greenbelt through the heart of our city. We must not blow the opportunity.

On one level there were few surprises. The proposal reflects the vision of SCAPE, the landscape architecture firm that won the 2013 design competition for a linear park along Town Branch, the long-submerged creek that was the backbone of early Lexington.

This illustration shows Town Branch Commons stretching west of Rupp Arena. The downtown linear park would link to two trails, expanding chances for bicycle commuting and recreation.

The surprise, or at least what gave pause, was the $75 million price tag.

That would be a hard bill to swallow, if local taxpayers were asked to pay it all.

But the city is only on the hook for $10 million under the business plan presented Tuesday. And, that only if Lexington wins a federal grant for about $13 million.

Those combined, along with about $1 million of work LexTran would fund at the Transit Center on Vine Street, will be used for the first phase: a 2.5 mile walking and cycling trail from the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden at Third and Midland, where Town Branch originates, along Midland to Vine to the parking lot behind Rupp Arena.

Following the lead of many other cities, including New York and Louisville, a non-profit would take over raising the money to build and maintain parks along that trail, a total of $50 million.

The price of building the parks is put at $30 million. The additional $20 million in private funds includes $8 million for the first decade of maintenance and operating expenses, and a $12 million endowment to provide operating funds into the future.

There are at least two really great things about this business plan.

The first is it plans for the ongoing investment parks require, without relying on the vagaries of annual city budgets. So, if built, people will want to come to the Town Branch Commons because it is consistently safe, clean and well-cared for.

The second is that if the private money doesn’t materialize, the city’s $10 million will be well spent, providing a safe, accessible link for walkers and cyclers among several existing sites: the Isaac Murphy garden, Charles Young Center, Thoroughbred Park, Phoenix Park and Triangle Park.

It will also allow people who live and work outside the city’s core a safe path into and through downtown, by linking the Legacy Trail, which runs from the Kentucky Horse Park, along Newtown Pike, past the new Bluegrass Community and Technical College campus to the Isaac Murphy garden; and the Town Branch Trail, from Masterson Station through the Distillery District to just behind Rupp Arena.

We believe, though, that if the city commits to this initial investment, private interests will be willing to invest heavily in making the compelling vision of a walkable greenbelt through our downtown a reality.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/opinion/editorials/article44601348.html#storylink=cpy

 

Town Branch Commons, a park through downtown Lexington, could cost $75 million

By Beth Musgrave – bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

 

Building and maintaining a linear park through downtown Lexington could cost upwards of $75 million, city officials told the Urban County Council on Tuesday.

But only $10 million would be city money, they said.

Town Branch Commons, a 2.5-mile linear park with a network of pools, fountains, rain gardens and pocket parks stretching from Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden to Cox Street would be funded through a combination of private, local and federal money, said Jeff Fugate, president and COO of the Lexington Downtown Development Authority, which has spearheaded efforts to create the park since 2013.

This illustration shows the proposed Town Branch Park, part of the presentation on the new Town Branch trail. The Council will hear more Tuesday May 19, 2015 about a proposal for a new linear downtown park that will connect the city’s two main trail systems. The city is applying for a $13 million federal transportation grant and Mayor Jim Gray is asking for $10 million for the project in his proposed city budget. Image: MIR,NBBJ, SCAPE/Landscape Architecture MIR,NBBJ, SCAPE/Landscape Architecture

That $75 million includes a little more than $24 million for infrastructure. A tentative target of $30 million has been set to establish parks along the path of Town Branch, the stream that runs mostly under downtown but would be raised to the surface.

About $8 million would be needed to operate the system for 10 years after it is completed.

An additional $12 million is for an operating endowment, which would generate $500,000 to $1 million a year for operating expenses beyond the first 10 years. It would be maintained by a nonprofit organization.

It’s an ambitious plan, Mayor Jim Gray said in an interview last week. But Town Branch Commons could transform the city for generations, he said.

“Quality of life is so important to our economic future,” he said. “Cities are competing for jobs. And quality of life and quality of place are key criteria in attracting jobs.”

Plans for Town Branch Commons were unveiled in 2013 but were put on hold while the city pursued a major overhaul of Rupp Arena and the attached convention center.

With Rupp Arena plans stalled, the city is turning its focus to Town Branch Commons.

The city has completed a pre-application for more than $13 million in federal transportation grant funding. The final application is due June 3. Gray has set aside $10 million in his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Lextran has agreed to put in a little less than $1 million.

The council agreed by voice vote during Tuesday’s meeting to ask the city’s law department to prepare a resolution supporting the application for the federal transportation grant.

The first $24 million would go toward building infrastructure, which would include bike lanes and trails that would connect downtown to the Legacy and Town Branch trails, said Jamie Emmons, Gray’s chief of staff.

“The second phase of funding would be privately funded,” Emmons said.

Fugate said an ad hoc committee had been meeting to work on details.

The Bluegrass Community Development Foundation has agreed to help with fund raising, Fugate said.

The design from Scape/Landscape Architecture of New York calls for a large Central Park-like park on the Cox Street lot west of Rupp Arena, a linear park in the Vine Street parking lot behind city hall, and other improvements to existing parks along the trail, including Triangle and Thoroughbred parks.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/news/local/counties/fayette-county/article44600439.html#storylink=cpy

 

With Rupp plans stalled, city turns attention to Town Branch Commons linear park

Plans for the Town Branch Commons, a long linear park with a network of pools, fountains, rain gardens and pocket parks stretching from Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden to Cox Street, were unveiled in 2013 but were placed on hold while the city pursued a major overhaul of Rupp Arena and the attached convention center. But with Rupp Arena plans stalled, the city is now turning its focus to Town Branch Commons.

By Beth Musgrave – bmusgrave@herald-leader.com

The row of asphalt parking lots behind the city’s government center and the Kentucky Theater along Vine Street provides parking but little else.

In 100 years, no one will remember it, said Jeff Fugate, president of the Downtown Development Authority.

Under plans for the Town Branch Commons, those asphalt lots could turn into green space with a water feature, benches and trees.

“Parks are long-term investments that shape investments for the next century,” Fugate said Friday.

Plans for the Town Branch Commons, a long linear park with a network of pools, fountains, rain gardens and pocket parks stretching from Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden to Cox Street, were unveiled in 2013 but were placed on hold while the city pursued a major overhaul of Rupp Arena and the attached convention center.

Part of the proposal includes a large Central Park-like green space next to Rupp Arena.

Part of the proposal includes a large Central Park-like green space next to Rupp Arena.

The linear Town Branch Commons project includes four sections. One of the proposed larger green spaces in the downtown linear park includes a park behind the Kentucky Theatre and the Urban County Government Center. That area is currently a series of asphalt parking lots.

The linear Town Branch Commons project includes four sections. One of the proposed larger green spaces in the downtown linear park includes a park behind the Kentucky Theatre and the Urban County Government Center. That area is currently a series of asphalt parking lots.

With Rupp Arena plans stalled, the city is now turning its focus to Town Branch Commons.

The proposed park follows the path of Town Branch, a creek buried underground through downtown.

Mayor Jim Gray said in his State of the City speech last week that he would include money in his proposed budget in April for the project.

Gray said in an interview Friday that the city is still looking at a design by the firm Scape/Landscape Architecture to determine what portion of the park could be started first. The city is also still working on cost estimates. Scape, which was selected from five finalists in a design contest, has separated the plans into four sections that could be developed over time.

“We are still trying to determine what that first phase will be and are still in the process of doing cost analysis,” Gray said.

But Gray said private funding will be part of the overall Town Branch Commons financing plan.

“This is a transgenerational project that has enormous economic value,” Gray said. “It translates into a more livable and welcoming city where people want to live work and stay.”

The Downtown Development Authority is taking the lead in developing the park.

Fugate said many cities of similar size to Lexington are investing in parks because those green spaces create a unique sense of place. Across the country, nearly every new park that has been built has been built with a combination of private and public funds, he said.

Lexington doesn’t have to go far to find a model for a park system that works.

21st Century Parks, a Louisville nonprofit, has used a combination of private and public funding to plan and develop The Parklands, a series of four interconnected parks along Floyd Fork in Louisville. Two of the parks are already open, and the last two parks will likely open in 2016, said Dan Jones, the chairman and chief executive officer of 21st Century Parks.

Jones and 21st Century Parks are advisors on the Town Branch Commons project.

“It’s a high-quality plan that is architecturally exciting,” Jones said of Town Branch Commons. “It also responds to a lot of the needs in Lexington.”

The Louisville nonprofit started with a master plan in 2006 and will be finished with its interconnected park system by 2016. In that time, the group raised more than $70 million in private funding and more than $52 million from federal, state and local governments.

Jones said funding for parks was not a hard sell in a town that has benefitted so much from parks first conceived more than a century ago.

When world-renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed three parks — Cherokee, Iroquois and Shawnee — in the late 1890s, the parks were mostly on the outskirts of town. Now, Louisville has grown around those parks. Some of the most desirable neighborhoods in Louisville are close to those parks because people want to live next to green space.

For Louisville, the Olmsted parks have raised property values and created a specific sense of place.

“Parks shape a community well beyond the square of green space,” Jones said. “They can impact future development, the health and the well-being of the community.”

Funding Town Branch Commons will be a key hurdle, Jones said. Not only does the city need a plan to raise money for the park, but it will also have to think about how to support the park over time.

The good news: There is precedent for private investment in Lexington’s parks. The Triangle Foundation, a nonprofit of local and civic business leaders, was started in 1980 by local businessman Alex Campbell Jr. and other community leaders to build Triangle Park in the middle of downtown. The group has also paid for Thoroughbred Park on Midland Avenue and Main Street and the skatepark at Woodland Park.

Gray said he and the Triangle Foundation leaders have had some initial conversations about how the foundation might help with the development of Town Branch Commons.

“It’s a tribute to his leadership and vision that we have urban parks at all,” Gray said of Campbell.

Stephen Grossman, president of the Triangle Foundation, said the foundation has had some initial discussions with the city about how the group could help with the overall vision. But those discussions are still preliminary.

“I would like to see it come together,” Grossman said of the overall plan.

Fugate said that when completed the linear park would not only create a green space going through the city’s core but would also connect the city’s two main trails — the Legacy Trail and the Town Branch Trail. The plans also include a large park adjacent to Rupp Arena.

The idea of creating a linear park through downtown has been kicked around for some time. But through Scape’s plans, the city finally has a way forward, Fugate said.

There is a lot to do in coming months.

Gray will unveil his budget proposal to the Urban County Council sometime in April. The council has until July 1 to approve the budget. Many council members said after Gray’s speech last week that they supported the idea of the park but wanted to know more about the details.

“Moving from this vision to implementation will take time,” Fugate said. “We want to do it carefully, and we don’t want to do it in a vacuum.”

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/news/local/counties/fayette-county/article44549130.html#storylink=cpy